How to Triumph Over Rejection During a Job Search
3 takeaways from a career coach who dealt with her own rejections
As a career coach, one of my key responsibilities is to help clients maintain their momentum and optimism as they look for work. Weathering rejections that often accompany the slog of a job search is critical. You can’t give up.
So it is with humility that I tell you about a recent time when I was over 50 and walked the path of many I’d counseled, fielding my own barrage of rejection slips and triumphing over them. I'm revealing this with the hope that my journey can offer guidance if you’re looking for a job and dealing with rejections.
My experience came when I was unexpectedly downsized from my role as an adjunct faculty member and mentor coach at the institute where I was trained.
Selective venting (and yes, even sulking) during a job search can be a step towards healing.
On hearing the news, I was stalwart at first. My cheery outlook lasted for about a week, until I was hit with a series of rebuffs from several executive coaching contracts that I’d been close to securing. Then came more no’s from clients who’d already been yeses. Suddenly, it was starting to feel personal.
I wondered: What’s wrong with me? After more than a month of relentless defeats, my can-do-spirit sunk to the most dangerous of spirals during a job search: “Why bother?”
It felt like being punched in the gut. I crawled onto the sofa in despair.
How would I coach myself out of this?, I wondered. From a supine position, I phoned a friend.
For a full 30 minutes, I shared each indignity and perceived slight. My patient friend said little, mostly listening.
There was no miraculous transformation from the call, but it was good to get the words out and helped me towards a rebound. In the subsequent weeks, when people engaged in the usual small talk and blithely asked, “How are you doing?” rather than responding with “I’m good,” I told the truth. To my surprise, I found comfort and support along the way.
My takeaway: Selective venting (and yes, even sulking) during a job search can be a step towards healing.
Here’s something else that helped: gratitude.
An integral part of my tool kit, particularly during the worst of times, is to be reminded of what’s good in my life. And on that gloomy weekend when I draped on the sofa, filled with waves of anger and despair, I began thinking of others I knew who were having difficulties far worse than mine. It made me grateful for what I had.
I thought about my neighbor who was recovering from a stroke; the couple in their 70’s contending with a divorce and a friend who was taking care of her ailing mother.
With that as context, I had a visceral reminder of how we’re all struggling at various moments of our lives. That’s when I had a breakthrough.
Once I tapped into the common struggle of humanity (as lofty as that sounds), I couldn’t unthink it. By comparison, my challenge seemed perfectly ordinary and in that sense, easier to fix.
If you’re dealing with job rejection, think about the things you’re thankful for. Start with the basics, like the air in your lungs and having a roof over your head. Then, expand out to include the people (and pets) in your life who you love and who love you back.
During stormy seas, gratitude can feel mechanical at first, but once you flex that muscle, it’s transformational.
My takeaway: Remember what’s working, even when work isn’t.
Then, with my professional career coach hat on, I turned to a resilience tool I often use with clients. It starts with taking a look back at an especially challenging situation from the past and articulating the steps you took to persevere.
This is where age can actually be a real plus. When you’re over 50, you’ve got lots of hard-earned material from which to draw. In my case, I revisited a harrowing period of tectonic career realignment. And out of nowhere, I heard this voice: “Redouble Your Efforts. Work Harder.”
I took out my Post-It notes and created a short to-do list, as I’ve often done in the past. I wrote down three specific things I wanted to accomplish in the coming weeks:
- Reach out to five new people each week to tell them about my work
- Develop a career-change workshop for therapists with clients in career transition
- Pitch a story idea to a publication
And here’s where resilience is important. At a time of vulnerability, to decide to pour more effort into reaching your goals without knowing the outcome, even at the risk of getting disappointed again, requires a leap. That’s when the magic happens.
My takeaway: Look back and leap forward
A few days after the inner voice urged me to redouble my efforts, I decided to turn my rejection experience into a teachable moment and write an article. And here we are.
One more thing: That “yes” that had turned into a “no” turned back into a YES! The contract is signed and my work has begun.
3 Final Tips
Let me finish with three final tips:
Tip 1: Don’t take rejections personally. Use whatever Zen you can muster to resist drawing hurtful conclusions as to why you didn’t get the job. A “no” is often due to reasons having nothing to do with you — like the company decided to hire from an internal candidate pool. Assuming an unfavorable narrative (without clear evidence) will needlessly erode self-confidence when you need it most.
Tip 2: Take a break from applying to job listings. Most of the time, when you respond to job postings, you won’t hear back and the silence can be deafening, if not soul crushing. So take a break and instead focus on building a network of support to uncover opportunities where you might have an inside path.
Tip 3: Celebrate small wins along the way. One of the fundamental challenges of looking for work is that the only clear marker for success is the day you land a job. That can leave lots of room in between for a sense of failure to creep in. Counter this by focusing on the process (rather than the outcome). Create smaller wins along the way: each week, set a few goals you know you can achieve. Then, when you cross them off your list, CELEBRATE.